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Good News For Theaters! You’re Doing Better At Fundraising Than Other Arts! Bad News: Your Ticket Sales Suck

by Jerome Weeks 15 Feb 2018

Theater development offices have gotten shrewder about generating income. Other arts groups gonna take notice. But selling to the general public is another matter.


You know how much we love the data coming out of SMU’s National Center for Arts Research. Like the time they refuted a common knock against government arts funding – that it benefits only the rich. Or the time they said Austin was the only Texas city to make the Top 20 cities for ‘arts vibrancy’ (Dallas was 85th — we kinda suspected that might be true).

Now ‘American Theatre’ magazine has a feature on ‘The Donor Class Struggle’ that’s based on patterns found by NCAR when it comes to arts fundraising:

In many ways, fundraising for theatre faces the same patterns and pressures as other nonprofits. But in recent years, numbers have emerged indicating that theatre may be in considerably better shape than other kinds of organizations chasing the same dollars. Zannie Giraud Voss, director of the National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) at Southern Methodist University, gives a sanguine report.“Theatres have been able to continually make investments in fundraising that generate additional contributed revenue, which is not the case for many of the other sectors,” Voss says.

On the other hand (darn that second hand, always delivering bad news), Theatre Communications Group – the folks behind ‘American Theatre’ – have a recent study that indicates while contributing income is increasing, revenue from ticket sales and subscripts is flat or declining.

The bad news, as Theatre Communications Group’s Theatre Facts 2016 reports, is that even as contributed income climbed a healthy 22.3 percent from 2012 to 2016 (after adjusting for inflation), the chief source of income—revenue from subscriptions and single-ticket sales—remained essentially flat. And single tickets sales declined. All that puts even more pressure on development offices.

Fortunately, development offices seem up to the task. The NCAR’s research shows that, from 2013 through 2016, theatres’ return on fundraising increased 13 percent—more robust than in music and opera, the only other arts and culture sectors to also show growth.

“Theatres are becoming increasingly effective,” Voss says. “Other organizations will be looking at theatres and asking, How did they do it?”